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Judicial Branch

Page history last edited by Nick 12 years, 7 months ago

The Judicial Branch is the third branch of the United States’ government.  The first branch is legislature, or congress, which passes laws.  The second and executive branch enforces laws.  The judiciary holds the two prior branches in check by interpreting the laws passed by the legislature, determining their meaning and whether they are valid. Statutes are invalid if they are contrary to the United States Constitution.  Even those that are consistent with the constitution need to be interpreted and applied.  This is the job of the courts in the United States.  


How Courts Work           

            The Judicial System in the United States is adversarial. That means that each side is represented; there is a plaintiff and a defendant.  The plaintiff brings the lawsuit first and accuses the defendant of doing something wrong.  Usually, each party has a lawyer. The lawyers are supposed to do the best job possible to represent his client.  He does this by telling the judge about what cases in the past relate to the dispute and why those cases prove that their party should win. 

            Example: This case has to do with a statute. Title 7 prohibits race discrimination, but the statute isn’t clear in this case.  Courts look at precedent, which means similar cases, with any similar facts that were decided in the past.


Stare Decisis

            Cases in the United States are decided based on Stare Decisis. 

            First, the courts have to determine if the language of a statute is clear.

            Example: If the statue says children under age 16 may not work in a bar, all that the court needs to know is if he was under 16 and if it was it a bar.

            Usually the questions are more subtle and complex (if all cases were as simple as the example, probably, no one would bring a lawsuit).  In more complex circumstances, first, the court looks at the language and if it isn’t clear enough for a decision, they look at the cases that have been decided before. They usually learn about them from the briefs filed from each side.



            In the U.S there are two levels of the judicial branch: federal and state.  The highest court in the nation is the United States Supreme Court.  It hears appeals from the United States courts of appeals (the highest federal level) and from state supreme courts (the highest state level). It only accepts certain cases.



            The federal system is selective about the cases it chooses to take to trial.  Usually its cases involve federal law rather than state law- that is called Federal Question Jurisdiction.  The other kind of case that can be brought to the federal court is a diversity case. “Diversity” indicates that it is a dispute brought between citizens of different states or between citizens of the United States and foreign countries.  In this context, “citizens” or “persons” includes natural people and companies. 

            Federal cases are initiated in Federal District Courts.  Federal District Court judges are appointed by congress. There are also federal magistrates who have more limited powers and are selected by the local United States district judges.  District court, magistrates, and judges preside over trials- both criminal and civil.  Some of these involve juries.



            The party that loses a case at the district court level can appeal the case to a United States Court of Appeals.  There are 12 geographical divisions of these called circuits.  The 9th circuit is the biggest

            Fact: U.S. has thought about splitting it into two divisions, but that would split California into two divisions.  Do you think it would be okay to have different laws in, for example, San Francisco and Los Angeles?           

            Arizona is also located in the 9th circuit and so cases brought to the Arizona district court are brought to the 9th circuit Court of Appeals.  Appeals court judges do not hold trials.  They read and review the record of the evidence and testimony and arguments of the district court trial or proceedings, then they listen to the lawyers’ arguments, then they decide based on that evidence whether the decision of the District Court judge was correct. 

            The party who loses in the circuit Court of Appeals may be able to bring an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. In most cases there is not a right to appeal to United States Supreme Court.  Instead you have to present a Petition in Certiorari.  This petition explains why it is an important case that deserves the attention of the United States Supreme Court.  If the United States Supreme Court grants Certiorari then the appellant can bring a Supreme Court appeal.  Certiorari is granted in less than 5% of the cases. 

            One of the best reasons for the Supreme Court to accept a case for review is that there are similar cases that have been decided differently by different circuit courts of appeals.  


            Example: There are two cases that involve age discrimination.  The two different cases have similar facts and deal with the same statutes discussed.  One is in San Francisco (in the 9th circuit) and one is in Boston (part of the 1st circuit).   The 9th circuit may interpret law differently. One or both could petition for certiorari. One reason for the United States Supreme Court to grant certiorari is to decide whether the 1st circuit is right or the 9th circuit, so in the future, everyone understands that part of the law more clearly.  

Comments (1)

mberry said

at 6:51 pm on Sep 20, 2009

Remember to cite you sources! This is good information, but isn't exactly a title page. This should perhaps be the "intro" but even then, it may be too specific! Rework this to be more broad and inviting to the reader!

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